NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – The red helicopter carrying six people zoomed over the East River, flying along a popular route for sightseers who want to view the Manhattan skyline, but something appeared wrong with its path Sunday evening.
It was flying too fast and descending too quickly, witnesses said.
From high-rise apartment buildings and parks along the river, they watched as the helicopter, losing altitude as if it were landing on solid ground, plunged into the water.
Its swirling rotors chopped into the river, eventually coming to a stop as it tilted, capsized and began to sink shortly after 7 pm (7am Singapore time).
Moments later, the pilot escaped, climbed to the top of the wreckage and yelled for help, a witness said. A flotilla of tugboats and emergency boats converged on the crash site, a couple of hundred yards north of Roosevelt Island, and began a frenzied search for others on board.
Emergency responders dived into the water to rescue the passengers, who were tightly harnessed in and had to be cut out, Daniel A. Nigro, commissioner of the New York Fire Department, said at a news conference.
Battling currents of 5 mph (8.05 kph) and a water temperature below 40 degrees (4.44 degree Celsius), the rescuers pulled the passengers out of the submerged helicopter and brought them ashore, he said.
All five passengers were killed, James Long, a Fire Department spokesman, said early Monday morning. Two were declared dead at the scene and three died in local hospitals. Nigro said the pilot was at a hospital and in “OK” condition.
It was not immediately clear what caused the helicopter to crash. Witnesses said it caught their attention because it was travelling faster and at a lower altitude than the helicopters that normally fly along the East River between Manhattan and Queens..
The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350 owned by Liberty Helicopters, was flying as a private charter to take photos, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said. A brochure for Liberty Helicopters, which is based in New Jersey, says it is the only company licensed to fly within 1,000 feet (304 metres) of the Statue of Liberty on all of its tours.
The company could not be reached for comment.